[Editor’s note: Augustin Flory recently joined Results for Development (R4D) as the managing director of nutrition—a new role for the organization. Flory leads R4D’s growing nutrition practice, working closely with global and country partners to design and implement programs that generate important knowledge about how to solve key challenges in nutrition and translate that knowledge into practice.
Kelly Toves, R4D’s public relations manager, sat down with Flory for an in-depth interview on his experience and path to R4D.]
You began your career as an attorney. What led you to shift careers and move to global development?
After university, I spent five years working as an attorney in China, and two and a half years in the Middle East and Africa. My work brought me in contact with government agencies and investors developing the private sector and economies in those countries. I quickly realized that I wanted to focus more directly on development issues and enabling a direct social impact.
When I completed my master’s degree in international development, I joined the African Development Bank (AfDB). This was a great opportunity to shift squarely to the development sector, working closely with African countries on their own development agendas. My experience at the AfDB provided major insight into how larger development institutions work with country governments to shape overall development goals.
In 2013, I joined the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), which has a unique mission focused on children in poor countries. At CIFF, I oversaw our strategy to address undernutrition, which was exciting, rewarding and challenging.The opportunities to transform societies by addressing undernutrition are absolutely huge. Undernutrition is one of the most neglected issues in international development, despite its importance and the availability of cost-effective and proven interventions. Being able to contribute to accelerating the adoption and rollout of these efforts at scale is a great opportunity and responsibility.
Why is nutrition one of the most neglected issues in global development?
Undernutrition has such a huge impact on global health — nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition. Children who survive have limited life opportunities compared to their well-nourished peers and are more likely to have malnourished children themselves, making it a major intergenerational equity issue. Malnourished children do less well in schools, earn less as adults, and as result, undernutrition also has a huge impact on economic growth: four to 11 percent of GDP per year is lost in countries with high burden of malnutrition. This is more than a major economic shock; addressing malnutrition would be a bigger boost to a country’s GDP than a large oil discovery, while being cheaper, and sustainable. The rates of return are very high across health, economic growth and inequality. Nutrition, however, fell off the radar a few decades ago, resulting in limited commitments and investments in tackling the issue. Now that’s it back in the spotlight, we need to stay focused: this is an issue that we can and must tackle urgently with the right type of leadership and collective action.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the nutrition community right now?
One of the biggest challenges now is mobilizing the resources and prioritizing the actions needed to translate the greater commitments into results. While I was at CIFF, we worked closely with R4D on several initiatives aiming to mobilize more resources and prioritizing their use. We developed the first-ever global investment framework — which told us how much it would cost to reach our global nutrition goals while also providing funding scenarios for different funding sources, including global donors and governments. This work has also led to the creation of the Investing in Nutrition website, which provides visualizations of the financing needed to improve nutrition at the global, regional and country level.
Another major challenge is how to better work on nutrition across sectors and integrate planning and delivery wherever possible. A lot of progress has been made on understanding what works in the health sector — although there is still a lot more work to do — but in other sectors like agriculture, education and WASH, we need to better understand what delivers most impact for nutrition, and how to better work across sectors, because we know nutrition needs to be delivered across sectors to be effective.
Lastly, we need to determine how to better engage the private sector in a responsible way to find solutions for nutrition. Food systems are a major part of the answer, and the private sector the main producer and provider of foods. I’m excited because R4D brings expertise in the market shaping — evaluating why specific products or services are not available or not reaching their intended consumers, and attempting to remove roadblocks and challenges from the supply, demand and regulatory angles, while also strengthening systems, processes and capacities within the country. This approach could be highly effective for some of the challenges we face with nutrition.
Why do we need to make a stronger investment case for nutrition?
This is critical. We’re now moving from the planning stage to the delivery and scale up of nutrition activities. We’re moving from a time when it was all about “Why nutrition?” and what to do, to a time when we’re thinking about how to do it best to meet the needs of children, mothers, societies and countries and reach the global nutrition targets. Because these activities are conducted in an environment where resources are scarce, we need to better understand how much it costs to scale up the right package of high-impact interventions and how to best mobilize and allocate resources for maximum impact. This starts with understanding the funding flows. R4D has conducted this work at the global level, and is working at the country and regional level in high-burden countries like Ethiopia, and Rajasthan, India. We must seize the opportunity to mobilize more funding for nutrition-specific and -sensitive activities across various sectors and use it in an optimal way.
What are you most proud of so far in your professional career?
I will be proud when the global nutrition targets are reached and I am able to say that I have played a small role in the joint efforts that led there. I am not quite there yet. But, in the meantime, I am glad I was able to contribute to some of the key new pieces in the global nutrition architecture that are already contributing to progress: the organization of the first Nutrition for Growth Summit in London in 2013; the creation of the Power of Nutrition; the establishment of the Global Nutrition Report as a key new accountability and advocacy piece; the creation of the No Wasted Lives coalition to accelerate progress on wasting; the development of the Global Investment framework for nutrition, so that we are finally able to talk about concrete funding gaps and investment scenarios to fill them. And I am honored to have had the chance to develop very strong work relationships and partnerships with some of the amazing people who work in nutrition and global public health more broadly.
What are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about promoting greater equity around the world — and the best way to do so is to start with children. Combatting malnutrition in mothers and children is just one approach to address this huge issue, one of the biggest facing societies today. Each time I visit the countries that I work with, meet the families and people that are working so hard to reduce malnutrition, I’m reminded of the privilege we have to be born where we are, and that should not take this for granted.
Having three small children myself, all under 5 years old, I realize how lucky I am to live in a country with good health care. I’m privileged to have the knowledge and access to the right kind of nutrition for my children and my family, and I dream of a world where all children have equal access to good nutrition and can fulfill their potential.
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